Chapter 3

    Thomas Coal watched the altercation from the shadows. Well, to be more accurate, as part of the shadows. He thought about intervening but he wasn't even supposed to be on campus here yet. He couldn't even apply to the HCP for another two years. He didn't think that was fair, he'd graduated high school, he was ready. Why should he have to be held back from becoming a hero? Just because he was barely 16? please.


    The red head was gorgeous, though Thomas didn't know that the same thing that held her back held him back too. He didn't know what the university's stance would be on a situation like this. This school was his first choice, and only choice really. He wanted to be part of another class of legends. And if there was one thing Thomas didn't do, it was dumb. Dumb he left to his peers, but he'd dearly like to be in Big Red's good graces. Though it kind of sucked she'd be four or five inches taller than him.


    Thomas knew there was another man standing quietly in the shadows watching. If he was in the area he could hear and see through any or all of the shadows in a fair radius, that was a side effect of merging with the shadows to travel through them. It wasn't as fast a teleporting, but he could go across the country in minutes. Right now he couldn't do much more than that, but he was training his power.


    Research on what Heroes had let slip in statements and biographies about their time in the HCP was that it was a grueling four year course. Also that a super was expected to be powerful when they arrived and grow more powerful as the course progressed. Thomas was intelligent and driven; he'd be the best of his class, then he'd work to make the class better too. So good that the glory of the class of legends would pale in comparison.


    Finally the other guy in the shadows let out disgusted sound and advanced quickly on the douches. Thomas thought about stepping out and helping him. Before he could? The poor douches never knew what hit them, even before Thomas's resolve fully firmed and he could think about stepping out to help, they were down. All of them; and the stranger was walking away with the beautiful girl following behind him. He listened in long enough to hear the cool guy giving the hot girl hell, you'd almost think they were dating.


    If he's an HCP candidate, Thomas had a lot more work to do.




    Later that night, in the bar Darius was playing for tips again. He might need the cash to make it to the next town if the drunks recognized him enough to raise hell with the school. He couldn't believe he'd been stupid enough to get involved in that situation. He didn't know reds story but, he could tell right off she wasn't one to be taken lightly, why she let them have their way was beyond him. Worse he broke his cardinal rule, blend in and be forgettable. What he had done was anything but. He drank down a whiskey neat faster than was probably wise and played on thinking about the color red, and elfin features.


    The night stretched on, and he played a few blues requests, which he normally didn't do. Blues was supposed to come from the heart, not a play list. But he was just fuzzed up enough by the whiskey to think screw it why not?


    He saw a blurry someone in a hoodie drop a twenty into his guitar case, and the female voice simply requested, “Play something original, something of yours?”


    He had songs, but only one song that came to his whiskey addled brain, and his heel stomped out a beat on the stage as he worked his slide down the neck of the guitar, making it moan low and mournful.


And he sang his song, voice low and whiskey rough.


The Black top was on fire

the day I-- ran away,


the Black top was burning

with hell hounds dogging my raggedy tail


"Get you gone, devil's spawn"

My momma she chased her son away

Oh yeah, she done ran her only boy off that day


Black top was scorching

The day they ran me out my delta home

Ran me out, they ran me out the place;

I was born and raised


Black tops been hot for years

been burning all my living days

can't go back without being roasted,

can't go forward without a ra-ise in pay


They say, “It's a long road out of hell..

I wouldn't know, …. I ain't made it out this god damned maze.

One day I'll go see my delta home,

I'll see it!  See it set a blaze..


Oh yes I'll set that husk a blaze....


    The guitar finished it's soulful lament, to the scattered applause of the apathetic. He didn't notice the strange metallic hazel eyes watching from a back booth. In truth he wouldn't of recognized the eyes from when he'd met her earlier that evening; he'd done the guy thing and only registered the overall package. But considering the package had been amazing, and only dressed in workout clothes, any reasonable guy would of forgiven him for missing her eye color in the first pass.




    Skylar sat back, her eyes tearing up at the pain of the song. The song itself was angry and sad, the thoughts it evoked in her hero had been worse. If his memories were accurate then he had every right to be one pissed off man. He wasn't handsome, he'd seen to much, been scarred too much by life to be GQ cover material. But there was something; a nobility in his gruff honesty that was beautiful. The fact that he was a little taller than she also helped. She didn't automatically disqualify a guy shorter than she from dates, but what girl didn't like tall, dark, and... well, scruffy. That last part was just packaging. She could fix the window dressing for occasions.


    And just like that Skylar realized she was going to try and get him to go on a date with her. Though she wasn't sure he did her typical dinner and movie first date thing. After all she'd been training hard she deserved a little fun too, and she knew he could use a little of that.




    In the same bar during the same song, James Carswell watched his boss's son play his guitar and sing. The kid wasn't bad, to bad the contract on the kid said dead and vanished. The boy might of went on to be the next great blues man of his time. James didn't know why the man wanted his kid dead, didn't care why. Questions like why, and what for, ceased to have much meaning for James they lead to trouble and eventually more bodies to bury.


    No, James prided himself on being a professional, the contract stipulated dead with no one ever hearing from the drifter again; so that's what it'd be. James had a particular skill set well suited to this type of job, and as soon has the right opening presented itself he'd take and collect the cool half-million this job paid. This kid's dad wanted him gone in the worst way.